Why Do Scientists Believe the Universe is Almost 14 Billion Years Old? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from the first post on this topic, we will look at two more methods that physicists and astronomers use to determine the age of the universe.  Again, this information has been gathered from Hugh Ross’ A Matter of Days.

The third method physicists use to calculate the age of the universe is to measure the age of stars throughout the universe.  Stars are simple objects, composed of 100% gas, that burn through the process of nuclear fusion, which, according to Ross, is very well understood and experimentally verified.

Because the process of stellar burning is so well understood, the physicist or astronomer can determine the age of a star if he knows the mass, color, and brightness of the star (all characteristics that can be measured from earth).  From this data, the astronomer can know how long the star has been burning, which places a boundary on how old the universe must be (it can’t be any younger than the oldest star).

The fourth method physicists use to calculate the age of the universe is to measure the relative quantities of radioactive isotopes in the universe.  Radioactive isotopes are only produced by supernovae, which are supergiant stars in their last stage of burning.

It turns out that radioactive isotopes decay at rates (half-lives) that are well understood.  Uranium and thorium, for example, have half-lives of billions of years.  Since we still find uranium and thorium in the universe, we know that the universe cannot be so old that these isotopes had completely decayed out of existence.  That sets an upper limit of a few hundred billion years.

On the other hand, those isotopes with half-lives of millions of  years or less (e.g., plutonium, neptunium, technetium) cannot be found on the earth, so we know that at least a billion years have gone by for them to have disappeared.  Since astronomers know how much of these isotopes were produced by ancient supernovae, and they know the decay half-lives, by measuring the amounts of these isotopes in existence today, they can calculate how much time has passed since the first supernovae produced the first isotopes.  Obviously the universe must be older than this.

Summary and Conclusion

I hope you were able to follow, at least at a basic level, these four methods.  Ross claims that there are many other independent methods that have been used to calculate the age of the universe, but that these four are the most simple for lay people to understand.  What strikes me about these methods is that they rely on different and independent measurement techniques, but they all arrive at the same answer for the age of the universe – around 13.7 billion years.

It’s easy to attack one measurement technique as being inaccurate, but when four independent methods give you the same answer, you need to pay attention.  And remember, it’s actually more than 4 techniques.  The laws of physics used to date the universe are very well understood and experimentally verified to a great degree of precision.  To dismiss all of these independent measurements as erroneous betrays a lack of understanding of physics and mathematics.

If you find yourself still questioning these findings, ask yourself why.  The age of the universe does not at all undermine Scripture.  Whether the universe is 13.7 billion years old or 6,000 years old has no bearing on the truths taught in the Bible.  As Christians, we are to seek out the truth, no matter what it may be.  The true findings of science will never the contradict the Word of God, so engage with science and enjoy the discoveries that lie ahead of us.  We have nothing to fear!!

24 thoughts on “Why Do Scientists Believe the Universe is Almost 14 Billion Years Old? Part 2”

  1. It is very true that the age of the Universe does not really matter. At the same time, you have given endorsement to four values that are still unestablished. It does not matter if the values match, because pick-and-choose methods are used behind the scene to make them match. (I am a physicist, and know the innards!!).

    These values matched when the total was 4.5, they match now when it is 14.5 billion. What about the upward revision of 10 billion?? It only means that things are uncertain and that it is not time yet to accept them as established facts.

    Johnson C. Philip

  2. Hi Dr. Philip,
    I realize that the calculations of the age of the universe have moved around as astronomers and physicists have gained access to more accurate measurement technology, but the answers have always come back in the low billions of years. The margin of error for these measurements keep decreasing and the differing measurement techniques continue to converge. I don’t understand why we would not just acknowledge that the universe must be billions of years old and move on. Scientists will continue to refine their estimates, but it seems clear that 6-10 thousand years is not realistic.

    God bless,

  3. So would you affirm or deny (it seems deny) 6 literal days of creation (Ex. 20:11 and the creation account in Genesis 1)? Or a better question, would be how do you merge what the bible explicitly says with the scientific findings? Gap theory, etc???

  4. Hi Ronnie,
    I believe that the 6 creation days of Genesis 1 literally represent a long period of time. I fall into the old earth creationist camp. I believe that the interpretation of the creation days as long periods of time is one possible literal interpretation of those verses. Please see my post on this issue of literal interpretations of the days of the Genesis.

    God bless,

  5. Johnson Philip seems to be confusing the age of the Earth with the age of the universe. The calculation for the age of the Earth has been accepted to be about 4.5 billion years since the 1950s. There has not been a whole lot of variation in this number for half a century.

    The estimate for the age of the universe has fluctuated somewhat over the past few decades—with estimates as low as 8 billion years in the 1980s—but seems to have stabilized in the 13.5 to 14.0 billion year range.

  6. the age of anything is 1 unit. there’s no such thing as time. time is a man-made idea. a “day” is 1000 years or 1 billion years. There’s no such thing as a day or a year. The word “universe” is a man-made term. It’s so hard to understand how something has no beginning and no end. It makes the idea of life so illogical. If we ever find out “where we came from”, then we’ll wonder where where we came from came from. It’s mind-boggling, disturbing, unsettling. What is the question to which we’re looking for the answer…”How old is the universe?” No. It’s “Why are we here?” But I must say I have always been searching myself for any clue as to what this all means, the true purpose of existence (for humans) and why, in my opinion, are humans the worst species on the planet.

  7. Hi Paula,
    Time is the marking of past, present, and future. The arrow of time always travels forward. Days and years mark time by the rotation of the earth and the revolution of the earth around the sun. They are the standards that mankind has agreed upon to mark the passage of time. Time is one of those fundamental concepts that we all know exists but we have a hard time defining it, because it is so fundamental. As to your questions about why we’re here and why humans are so bad, Christianity has answers to those questions. Are you familiar with those answers?

  8. In reference to the fourth method physicists use, the relative quantities of radioactive isotopes in the universe. “On the other hand, those isotopes with half-lives of millions of years or less (e.g., plutonium, neptunium, technetium) cannot be found on the earth, so we know that at least a billion years have gone by for them to have disappeared.”

    Does the absence of these prove anything? Why couldn’t God have made the earth without these?

    I like DR. Gerald Schroeder’s explanation where 6 days can be/is 15 Billion years.

  9. And yet the Bible does say that God created existence in its current form. This contradicts science, sure, but that only proves one of them is wrong. For anyone to default to the presumption that science is right is already presupposing that dogma is wrong… its a begging the question fallacy, at that point. If God had created the universe as is, then its our fault and our fallacy for misinterpreting scientific results… it would not be god who lied to us, it would be us who lied to us by ignorantly make false presumptions and draw unsubstantiated conclusions from science. Think about that.

    We humans delude ourselves and one another, deceive and manipulate all the time. Science, perhaps not in the day to day things, but in the more outrageous conclusions could conceivably be delusions in themselves… in that we humans and our limited intellect are willing to make certain interpretations where they may not necessarily be fully justified. God need not lie or deceive us for scientific conclusions to contradict truth.

    Im also quite suspicious about any sort of “testing” or scientific conclusion that is not literally testable, repeatable, that is done from afar and cannot be verified against actual truth, involving systems so complex and long-standing that not all variables can possibly have been measured.

  10. Put another way:

    Suppose for the sake of argument that dogma is in fact correct… every word.

    Does scientific OBSERVATION contradict that reality? Or does scientific INFERENCE contradict that reality?

  11. Mich,
    God can do anything he wants, but why would he provide all of this scientific evidence about the age of the universe, only to be fooling us? The Bible seems to say that we can observe the natural world and learn some things about God, but I don’t think deception is the attribute of God that biblical writers had in mind.

    Thanks for your comment,

  12. There are excellent reasons why today’s scientists are accepting a young earth. http://stevehusting.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/what-leads-more-scientists-today-to-believe-that-the-world-is-only-10000-years-old/

    It really does matter how old the universe is. If we say that life has been on earth for a few million years, then we say the Bible is wrong – that sin and death did not really enter in with Adam’s sin. Is Romans 5:14 true, or not? Was there death before Adam sinned, or not?

    Can science explain the order of days in Creation? Does the model of physics explain why the grass, vegetables, and fruit trees grew first (day 3), and then living creatures (day 5)? How does science explain how the stars (day 4) came after the grass appeared (day 3)?

    It’s clear that God is having fun at some scientists’ expense!

    Steve Husting, author
    Doubt Busters


  13. Clearly there was death before the fall… ask the plants. I’m sure Adam stepped on an ant or two. Physical death is not a barrier in any way.

  14. This study assumes that all stars were created with the same brightness. As a Christian, I would think that, knowing God’s infinite creativity ( as seen in nature) you would think that He would not have created all stars equally in the beginning. You also lost me at taking the temperature of the Universe. This is physically impossible to do while sitting on earth. Another point to consider is that we are basing the “age” of the Universe on the track of the Earth around the Sun, hence “years”. This is kind of a foolish thing for us to do since the Earth had not been in existence as long as the Universe has. Therefore without Earth as a means to measure, time is of no importance and becomes meaningless. God is beyond time and beyond our understanding. I am not certain that the Universe is any particular age and that is my whole point. I think God laugh’s at our feeble attempts to “age” the Universe.

  15. Just because you dont understand, doesn’t make it impossible, you are just ignorant of modern physics. Actually, not even modern physics, physics from 40 years ago.

  16. Matter has been explained and it is very elegant and simple. It also explains what we see. Common Sense Science. Enjoy.

  17. The age of the universe is impossible to measure. Scientists are now measuring the “visible universe”, that is, all the objects from which their light has reached us. The number keeps increasing, because we have better instruments to detect light that is further away from us, such as Hubble. We do not know how much further the universe expands, because no light has reached us from there yet. So to say the size or age of the universe, would be just a guess. Sure, it may be an educated guess, but still just a guess. Furthermore, we have nothing else to compare the size of our universe too. Is our entire universe just another large galaxy in a much larger universe? Or is our universe just a speck of sand on the beach of some unimaginably large planet somewhere and our earth really just the size of the head of pin where we are all really microscopic organisms walking around and living our lives while someone up there is actually observing us through a microscope. I always find it funny that humans think we are the center of the universe and how we compare everything to our own image. When In reality, we may be sitting on a piece of sand and stuck to the foot of some other being, who thinks they are actually the center of the universe and we are just a nuisance. Perspective and relativity. We are NOT the center of the universe….nor should anyone with any common sense, think we are alone in this universe or galaxy or where ever or whatever place we are living in.

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